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When you see earthquake costs reported in the media, one of the most common quotes is how many millions of dollars of damage has been done. This is often worked out as a function of how much it will cost to bring the affected neighbourhoods back into the same condition as they were before the earthquake struck. With the focus on homes and buildings, an earthquake with a deep epicenter will cause more financial damage as it will affect the foundations of each structure as well as the ground at the surface.

However, when calculated as a percentage of total land usage in British Columbia, man-made buildings and structures actually take up a very small amount of space. The impact of an earthquake on the natural environment can also have devastating effects; not just for humans, but for local plants and wildlife who form part of the vital food chain.

 

Earthquake Environmental Effects

 

To understand the main earthquake impacts on the environment, it’s important to learn about some of the ways that earthquakes impact the ground:

  • Soil liquefaction – this is one of the most terrifying consequences of an earthquake as it effectively turns what looks like solid dirt into a liquid mess. It happens when the ground is saturated with rainwater (or at least 75% saturated) and the stress of the earthquake tremors cause the bonds between solid matter to soften and lose strength. The sudden change from solid to liquid can be devastating to anything that uses the soil as foundation.

  • Landslides – another intimidating earthquake environmental effect are landslides, where significant portions of sloped land suddenly break off and slip down the hill. Landslides caused by earthquakes typically happen in places where the soil is either saturated, which makes it automatically weaker as the bonds between solid matter are broken up by water), or where the solid matter is in larger chunks such as stones or boulders. The effect of having the ground shake and oscillate underneath the hill dislodges enough matter and gravity takes care of the rest, pulling tons of rock, dirt and rubble down the hillside.

  • Surface faulting – a fault occurs where the ground actually splits apart under the force of the seismic shocks. This tends to happen in dryer locations and those locations that have a certain rock type and formation close to the surface. It’s important to note here that the Hollywood movie vision of the earth cracking open wide enough to swallow cars and people is massively overstated and is solely intended for dramatic purposes. A typical surface fault is likely to be less than 30 cm wide and definitely less than a metre deep.

 

 

 

The scientific community has groups these earthquake environmental effects (which they shorten to EEE in the literature) into two classes: primary and secondary effects. Primary effects are those which are as a direct result of the earthquake’s seismic shock waves and include surface faulting and subsidence (where gaps and holes below the earth’s surface occur, causing the land above it to sink or collapse). Secondary effects are those which happen as a direct result of the primary earthquake environmental effects. These include tsunamis, soil liquefaction and landslides. It is often the secondary effects that cause the greatest devastation and that are more visible in the post-earthquake media coverage.

 

Earthquake Impacts on the Environment

 

All of these earthquake environmental impacts are devastating to human lives and interests when they happen in built up urban areas. However, each of them also directly impacts the natural environment, often in ways that have long lasting consequences:

  • Destruction of habitats – the biggest and most obvious impact of an earthquake on the natural environment is the destruction of animal habitats. For example, a landslide in a wooded hillside can cause trees to fall, ruining nests and tree based homes. This will cause a squeeze on local animal populations as the displaced creatures will need to have somewhere to go. In the case of soil liquefaction, the most saturated land tends to be found in rural areas, meaning that wild animal habitats are at risk from subsidence.

  • Changing soil composition – larger earthquakes have the potential to completely alter the pH balance of the soil. For example, in a subsidence scenario, gaps and holes are formed deep under the earth’s surface, which get filled in by looser top soil. The sunken areas will slowly get filled in as the wind blows dirt and seeds around, but there’s no guarantee that the pH will be the same in the new top soil. This can affect the types of plants that grow in an area, which in turn can affect the entire local ecosystem.

  • Disruption of the water cycle – finally, earthquake environmental effects such as ground faults and soil liquefaction can instantly change the course of rivers and streams, as well as adding unknown impurities into the water cycle. In urban and suburban areas, it’s also possible for ground faults to crack water and sewage pipes, which can alter the local water supply and make it harder for all creatures, including humans, to get access to clean, fresh water.

 

While these are all longer term impacts of an earthquake on the natural environment, the weakening of the underground structures can be a hidden time bomb waiting for the next big quake. Seismologists can identify the possible earthquake impacts on rock structures and soil solidity based on the strength of the seismic waves, but there’s no way to accurately assess the ongoing stress that frequent earthquakes put on the earth’s crust until they finally give way.

 

Is there any way to mitigate against these environmental disasters? As noted, it’s almost impossible to predict when a big earthquake will come, and even harder to assess the current state of damage underground. However, humans can take steps by monitoring land that is at risk of subsidence and landslides, and providing preventative measures through placing natural foundations to support the weakened ground. Water and sewage pipes can also be made out of a more flexible material to help them move and sway with the underground shakes, which should reduce their chances of breaking under pressure.

 

Living through an earthquake can be one of the most terrifying experiences that a person can go through. In no other situation are you at the true mercy of mother nature which can strike with lethal force at any time or any place. There are plenty of evacuation warnings for hurricanes, snowstorms and other destructive but predictable weather phenomena as they can be measured and monitored. An earthquake can strike without warning which means that knowing what happens during an earthquake is essential so that you can start to prepare.

 

 

What is an earthquake?

To fully understand what happens during an earthquake, it’s essential to understand what’s going on miles underneath your feet. British Columbia sits on the western edge of the North American tectonic plate, an enormous expanse of rock that floats on the magma in the center of the Earth. It touches the smaller Juan de Fuca plate, and they are constantly pushing past each other. The sheer size and weight of these plates means that they don’t move smoothly (think about trying to slide two pieces of coarse sandpaper against each other), so when they do move, it feels like a slip to a new resting position. This slip creates a massive energy shift which radiates up to the crust, where British Columbia lies and it is that massive burst of energy which causes the ground to shake.

 

 

What happens during an earthquake?

Unlike any other natural phenomena, there is no indication that an initial earthquake is about strike. The first thing that you’ll know about it is the earthquake itself. A smaller earthquake will last a couple of seconds, but a stronger, and more deadly, earthquake could last for 30 seconds or more. During this time, the ground will move up and down, possibly cracking and definitely destroying anything that is built or standing on top of the affected crust. The closer you are to the epicenter, the stronger these vibrations and movements will be.

 

Once the original earthquake is over, it doesn’t mean that danger is done. Smaller aftershocks can often happen in the minutes straight after the first earthquakes, and indeed they can still occur, admittedly with less impact and strength, over the next few days and weeks as the tectonic plates settle into their new position. Part of any earthquake safety training will talk about how long to keep in place for after an earthquake to avoid putting yourself in danger during an aftershock.

 

 

 

 

What does an earthquake feel like?

It’s hard to truly describe what an earthquake feels like, and this is a problem for many British Columbia residents. Not knowing what happens during an earthquake and what it feels like means that people are tempted not to take the risk of living on a tectonic fault line seriously. Fortunately, QuakeCottage provides a unique opportunity for everyone to fully experience what an earthquake feels like.

 

QuakeCottage is a mobile earthquake simulator that is designed to provide a short insight about what happens during a quake. It serves both the general public and businesses, and generates up to the same force as an 8.0 earthquake. This is what to expect during a “ride” on the QuakeCottage earthquake simulator:

  • After you’ve got yourself buckled up, a sudden jolt that feels almost like a car crashing into the room will rock the simulated home and laboratory setting.

  • The initial jolt is just a prelude for the violent shaking that will rock your seat for around 20 seconds so that you truly experience the fear and shock that comes with a major earthquake. You’ll be pleased that you wearing a seat belt as you wouldn’t be able to stand up during the shaking.

  • Finally, the shaking settles down, but they always include one final “aftershock” at the end of the presentation as a cautionary tale about not getting out from your safe place immediately after an earthquake.

 

The amazing thing that you’ll notice when you’re inside in the QuakeCottage earthquake simulator is that nothing falls off the walls or slides off the counter tops. This is because everything is tied down and secured using Safe-T-Proof seismic fasteners. These are the industry leaders, both easy to install and super strong, as you’ll see when the QuakeCottage really gets going.

 

 

 

Who should use QuakeCottage?

In short, everyone! (Except for those with back problems, frail bones, etc.) The biggest source of danger surrounding earthquakes is their unpredictability. However, you know that living in British Columbia, there is a high likelihood of an earthquake striking somewhere near you, and the possibility that it might be a major disaster event. This is why undertaking earthquake safety training is essential, and you should make sure that a visit from QuakeCottage is part of this process. You should definitely consider booking QuakeCottage if you fall into one of these categories:

  • Community event organizer – whether it’s the local fair, firefighter’s fundraiser or town yard sale, QuakeCottage will provide essential earthquake safety training and information to your attendees.

  • Multiple occupancy building owner – if you own or rent spaces like an apartment block, office tower or shopping mall, having QuakeCottage provide earthquake simulator experiences for all your users will allow you to create an common language action plan, as well as to devise some earthquake safety kits that are strategically located throughout your buildings.

  • School administrators – while every school in British Columbia will have policies and practices in place for what to do in the event of an earthquake, exposing students and staff to what happens during an earthquake will help them to take further trainings seriously. Students can sometimes think of it as a fairground ride, so it needs to be part of an extended earthquake safety program to help them understand what they need to do during an earthquake.

 

So while it’s easy to know what happens during an earthquake from a scientific viewpoint, the only way that you can truly understand what it’s going to be like during an earthquake is to book QuakeCottage to come and help you experience and prepare the worst that mother nature can throw at us.

 

 

 

Earthquake safety checklist for british columbiaEarthquake safety checklist for british columbia

Even though you might not feel all of them, there are over 3,000 earthquakes each year in British Columbia. The proximity of the province to the boundary between the Pacific and North American tectonic plates means that any subtle changes deep underground gets translated into ground movement. Fortunately, many of these earth tremors are too small for us to notice, but there are definitely some each year that catch our attention. Many people in the province live in fear of The Big One; a catastrophic earthquake that completely destroys homes and lives, but with the right earthquake safety preparations, the damage caused by The Big One can be drastically reduced.

 

The key for effective earthquake safety preparation is to find the fine line between being ready for disaster and living your day to day life. If you have young children, it’s even more important to strike this balance as you don’t want your kids living in fear of something that seismologists believe has only a 1 in 10 chance of happening over the next 50 years. But just in case, the following 5 ideas make up an ideal earthquake safety checklist for BC residents.

 

Tsunami Zone

Start off with the big picture. If you live in a busy downtown area, your main focus for earthquake safety preparation will be installing seismic fasteners onto freestanding furniture and finding safe places to run and hide. However, if you live by the coast, you need to be aware that British Columbia has been split into five tsunami “zones”, so you need to know which one you live in. The five zones are:

  1. The north coast and Haida Gwaii

  2. The central coast and northeast Vancouver Island (this zone includes Kitmat, Bella Coola and Port Hardy)

  3. The outer west coast of Vancouver Island, taking all points between Cape Scott to Port Renfrew

  4. The Juan de Fuca strait from Jordan River to Greater Victoria, including the Saanich Peninsula

  5. The Strait of St George (this includes the Gulf Islands, Greater Vancouver and Johnstone Strait)

Within each zone, there are 4 levels of warning that you need to be aware of:

  • Information – this means that you can expect minor waves at most, and you don’t need to take action.

  • Watch – this is when the government doesn’t know the danger level yet, so you need to keep an eye out for further information.

  • Advisory – strong currents are likely near your neighbourhood, so your main duty is to get away from the shoreline.

  • Warning – this is the highest level and means that a big wave is incoming. Full evacuation of your area is suggested at this level.

For each zone, there is a corresponding map so you can see exactly which tsunami zone you’re in so you can build it into your earthquake safety plan.

 

Household Emergency Plan

The next step in your earthquake safety checklist is to complete a household emergency plan. All members of your family (or at least those who can participate in such a meeting!) should be present for the discussions, which should cover some, or all, of the following:

  • Escape routes from all rooms – don’t be afraid to play devil’s advocate about what to do if your first escape route is blocked or unavailable.

  • Shelter-in-place location – if the government issues a “shelter-in-place” warning, make sure everyone knows where that is in your home, or what to do if they can’t get there.

  • Neighbourhood meeting places if you need to evacuate your home – make sure you have two or three locations spread out so at least one will be available.

  • Out of neighbourhood meeting places – these should be places near schools, workplaces or other common locations your family visits. In the case of The Big One happening when you’re out of the home, your family should make their way to one of these places and wait in place to be found.

earthquake map planearthquake map plan

 

 

 

 

Earthquake Safety Kit

One of the best earthquake safety tips is to prepare a basic earthquake safety kit in an easy to access location. Some of the essential items for this kit include:

  • Medical kit – this needs to have the basics of bandages, antiseptic cream and wipes, gloves, gauze, pain medication and insect bite cream.

  • Battery, hand crank or solar powered radio – make sure you have a list of locally available radio stations that will broadcast emergency information.

  • Food supplies – these should be tins or bottle so they won’t spoil, and should last you and your family up to four days.

  • Dust masks – these will help you breathe through the dust. As with airplanes, fix your own before fixing those of your children.

  • Spare clothing and footwear – keeping warm and dry will help keep everyone healthy as well as maintaining good morale.

  • Copies of important documents – in the case of a statewide catastrophe, having copies of birth and marriage certificates, insurance documents and any medical paperwork will help you get back on your feet quicker.

You should also have earthquake safety pictures of your safe places, any medication you need and family members for younger children to use.

 

Be Ready for Quick Action

The last part of your in home earthquake safety checklist is to know where your utilities come into your home and how to shut them off. This includes gas and water supplies. You should also know how to shut off the electricity to the whole house, and have a ready supply of fire extinguishers for gas, wood and electrical fires. In an ideal scenario, you should make signs and how-to pictures so that other family members know how to act quickly in an emergency earthquake situation.

 

 

Finally, given the infrequency of big earthquakes in BC, it’s easy to become a little complacent and forget about the earthquake safety checklist you’ve just completed. Make sure you review everything a couple of times each year to keep everything fresh and current. This will allow you to update anything in your earthquake safety kit as well as adapt your plan to meet any changes that have happened for you or your family.